Text: Philippians 2
We were all invited to renew our baptism today. At the start of worship, you were invited to remember your baptism, if any, and your confirmation, if any. Assuming you could do either, or both, is ambitious in 2019. In the 20th century, infant baptism declined as a cultural norm, and so did youth confirmation.
My 1955 baptism produced no photographs, no certificate, and no godparents. With 2 preschool siblings in a wee postwar house, my parents just ‘got me done’ as routinely as they arranged my vaccinations. Baptism was a similar dose of a mild form of religion, to guard against something more fanatic later in life. I also got booster shots of Sunday School in suburban churches.
My 1970 confirmation generated no photos or certificate, but a 1930 Hymnary, inscribed to ‘John Bruce’. With 2 dozen grade 10 youth, the error was routine, after whole church year of classes: ‘achievement orientation’ in the fall from a Western University business professor, and ‘catechism’ in the winter from the same woman who had baptized me, now working in a big downtown church.
Our 1988 General Council changed the rules for baptism and confirmation, clarifying what was required, and what was not mandatory. The Victoria meeting concluded that Confirmation would no longer be once-for-all, but should be regularly and frequently renewed, throughout our lives. Incidentally, that led us to say that you could belong regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Compare the relationship of these rites to your church membership, as you might compare your wedding(s) to your marriage(s), if any. What’s sufficient, and what’s necessary? Marriage needs regular and frequent renewal and not just one ‘I do’, party, or honeymoon. Pausing to revisit or renew your vows might be salutary, or cautionary – you might do better with the next partner.
Our Lutheran landlords maintain a more conventional practice of Confirmation, and their class of youth, including one United Church participant, were invited to come today to observe our ritual renewal. In this generation, it’s anthropological fieldwork to research comparative practices of baptism and confirmation. Watch these adults renew – or equivocate and waver – in the face of the 4 questions. You want to retake any grade 10 exam now? Teenagers would like to watch!
We were invited to say “I do” to 3 questions. Do you want to belong? Do you believe? Do you promise to behave like that? The wording was like this:
Do you want to be a Member of Trinity United Church within the one church? (I do.)
Do you believe in God your Creator, in Jesus Christ your Redeemer, and in the Holy Spirit your Teacher & Guide? (I do.)
Do you promise to grow in this faith, part of this community of faith, sharing the church’s celebration and service? (I do.)
We were also invited to say “I do” to a 4th question. Do you promise to welcome the others, and help them?
Do you, as continuing members and friends of Trinity,
welcome these renewing Members,
and promise to grow with them,
part of this community of faith,
sharing the service and celebration
of the church? I do
Holy Week is traditionally a time to baptize and confirm members, after a Lent season of learning and practising the faith with greater intentionality. Today, on Palm Sunday, how do you imagine Jesus enters Jerusalem? Most imagine a triumphal entry, with Jesus as a rock star, and everybody focused on him.
So says Matthew, that the crowds came out of the city to greet him, following him back into the city. That’s a 1950’s Palm Sunday, repeated for long decade in our old cathedral at 74 Frederick. We all know the hymns, but now we are just 50 people in a rented chapel, singing different songs.
Luke’s version is more like ours, today. The crowd is streaming in through the gates for Passover, not for Jesus. People from across Palestine, and from a wider scattered diaspora ‘come home’ to Jerusalem.’ This weekend in Toronto, the big crowds came for the post-season Raptors and Leafs, or the early season Blue Jays. They were not religious fanatics, heading for Palm Sunday services!
Were Luke’s Jesus or his buddies the reason for the parade in Luke? No. Were they the centre of attention? No. Were any of them even Christians yet? Not yet, I’d say, just good Jews joining the pilgrimage. Fans, not fanatics.
Luke has no palms and no ‘hosannas’. Everybody is greeting each other with
‘blessed is one who comes in the name of God’. That’s the equivalent of ‘Howdy’ at Stampede, ‘Merry Christmas’ in December, ‘Shabbat Shalom’ at a synagogue on Saturday, ‘allahu akbar’ at Friday prayers or ‘eid mubarek’ at the end of Ramadan. Luke’s disciples do say ‘ho basileias’.
These are excited fans, not fanatics. ‘A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject!’ (Churchill). ‘A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort, since he has forgotten his purpose.” (Santayana). Warnings like this about fanatics sound familiar to me. Most religious people, most of the time, share that moderation of our enthusiasm.
Philippians 2 includes an ancient hymn, in rhyming poetry, about Jesus’ humility and self-emptying. We have been too long pompous, full of ourselves, and can learn from this ideal. Trinity folks are ‘haunted by Betty Heagy’, who scolded us when things were not done correctly. We are still driven by ‘Great Generation’ of alpha males and matriarchs, long gone and replaced by betas and seconds.
For decades we in the ‘mainline’ churches, relishing cultural influence, didn’t self-empty, so we were stripped. Some are still going through the motions, humbled, but not yet humiliated. In this ‘lame duck’ period of transition, people stay away, hoping to return when dissonance ends and we get ‘back to normal’. When they do visit, they discover that you can’t come home – if home changed.
To become Muslim, an adherent of Islam, is all about submission to will of God: Tawhid and Shahada are the affirmations. I testify – bear witness:
God is greater.
lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh
muḥammadun rasūlu llāh
There is no god but God.
Muhammad is the messenger of God
Does that stick in your throat? Can you say with assertion our own affirmation?
Remember your baptism – or at least, the stories you were told of your infant baptism or ‘christening’. Remember your confirmation – your youthful stories.
Could you retake the test today, and ‘recertify’ as a Christian? Can you say the “I do” when asked if you want to belong, if you believe, and if you promise to behave as if it were so? Can you welcome others, and promise to help them?
We are not alone,
We live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil.
to proclaim Jesus,
crucified and risen
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death,
in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.